Prague renames street after Václav Havel’s first wife

Street in Prague 3’s historically rough and tumble Žižkov neighborhood renamed in honor of local ‘patriot’ Olga Havlová

Václav and Olga at their cottage | na serveru Lidovky.cz | aktuální zprávy Václav and Olga at their cottage | foto: © Václav Havel LibraryČeská pozice
Václav and Olga at their cottage

Olga Havlová had long proclaimed herself to be a “Žižkov patriot”; now the down-at-the-heels neighborhood where she was born and raised — “one of the roughest, working-class districts of Prague,” as she once recalled — has honored the memory of the charismatic first wife of Václav Havel by naming a street after her.

“It has been 13 years since I wrote the first letter to the Prague 3 mayor suggesting that it was necessary to have a street named after Olga Havlová in Žižkov,” Milena Černá, director of the Committee of Goodwill – Olga Havlová Foundation, told the Týden news portal on Wednesday when the street sign was unveiled. 

Havlová (née Šplíchalová) died of cancer in 1996. In her lifetime, like her famous husband, she was a dissident and regular on the theater scene: from1961 to 1969 she was an usherette in the Na zábradlí theater, where the playwright and future president also worked (and which performed some of his plays). They had first met in 1953 at the famous writers’ hangout Café Slavia, opposite the Czech National Theater, but didn’t marry until 1964.

After the Warsaw Pact-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, she was always at her playwright husband’s side — becoming a dissident herself, during the period of so-called normalization in the early 1970s. Havlová was among the first signatories of Charter 77. 

From 1979, Olga Havlová participated in the publication of Edice Expedice, became a member of the editorial board of the O divadle (About Theater) magazine (1986), and assisted in the realization of the samizdat Original Videojournal. Into the 1980s, she was involved in samizdat publishing and would type out copies of banned books for friends.

After Havel became the first president of post-communist Czechoslovakia, she founded the Committee of Goodwill, credited as the first charity organization in the Czech Republic, which supported people with mental disabilities, and worked to support the burgeoning civil society.

In 1992, the Olga Havlová Foundation was established to help the disabled, elderly, poor and orphans. She had used her position and influence as First Lady to promote good causes. A year after she died of cancer, aged 62, she was posthumously awarded the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk for “outstanding contributions for democracy and human rights.